Thinking outside the boxRobert Malley was a State Department Arabist who became notorious in Jewish circles for penning a lengthy article in the New York Review of Books in which he blamed Ehud Barak for the failure of the Camp David giveaway, despite everyone else's claim that it was Arafat's fault. Aaron David Miller was one of the three court Jews in the Clinton State Department (the others being Dennis Ross and Daniel Kurtzer). Some of you may recall that I have been critical of Malley and Miller in the past.
In today's Washington Post, Malley and Miller give a fairly accurate analysis of all the reasons why concentrating on the 'West Bank' to the exclusion of Gaza won't work. But the analysis is undermined by one fatally flawed assumption: that it is impossible to divide the 'West Bank' from Gaza. Allow me to explain.
Malley and Miller are correct when they point out that the idea of concentrating on the 'West Bank' and ignoring Gaza is
... premised on the notion that Fatah controls the West Bank. Yet the West Bank is not Gaza in reverse. Unlike in Gaza, Israel's West Bank presence is overwhelming and, unlike Hamas, Fatah has ceased to exist as an ideologically or organizationally coherent movement. Behind the brand name lie a multitude of offshoots, fiefdoms and personal interests. Most attacks against Israel since the elections were launched by the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, the unruly Fatah-affiliated militias, notwithstanding Abbas's repeated calls for them to stop. Given this, why would Israel agree to measurably loosen security restrictions?In fact, I argued last week that it's not at all clear that Fatah even controls the 'West Bank.' And of course it follows that they are also correct that
Finally, the theory assumes that Hamas has little influence in the West Bank. Fatah may have more guns, but Hamas retains considerable political support. More important, it takes only a few militants to conduct attacks against Israel and few such attacks to provoke an Israeli military reaction. If Hamas is convinced that there is an effort to strangle its rule, it is likely to resume violence against Israel -- either directly or through one of many militant groups, Fatah offshoots included. There will be no shortage of militants angry at Fatah leaders' dealings with Israel or hungry for cash. If such violence occurs, hope for progress in the West Bank will come crashing down.But where they are mistaken is in their claim that
"West Bank first" also relies on the notion that Abbas -- or any other Palestinian leader -- can afford to concentrate on the West Bank at Gaza's expense. There is raw anger among Palestinians. But once the dust settles, Abbas will want to be viewed as president of all Palestinians, not of a geographic or political segment of them. For him to accept funds that can be spent only on the West Bank, or international dealings that exclude Gaza, would critically undercut his position as a symbol of the Palestinian nation.They assume that there is a distinct, 'Palestinian' nation and that its indigenous territory includes both the 'West Bank' and Gaza (and by implication all of the State of Israel). And that is a fiction that the Arab countries have imposed on the Western world. It wasn't just an accident of history that until 1967, Egypt occupied Gaza and Jordan occupied the 'West Bank.' It's because the inhabitants of those areas from 1948 to 1967 came from distinct nomadic tribes that were not related to each other except that they were all Arabs (just like the populations of Egypt, Jordan and twenty other Arab countries). That's why Gaza is dominated by 'clans' while one doesn't hear that word used in the 'West Bank.' Those clans are family, tribal groupings.
What are the implications of trying to treat the 'West Bank' separately from Gaza? Assuming that
First, Gaza is controlled by Islamic religious fundamentalists, while the 'West Bank' is much more secular. If Gaza is removed from the picture, it could weaken or remove the religious element in the conflict, which could go a long way towards resolving it. Once 'Allah' is no longer ordering the 'Palestinians' to murder the Jews, there may be room for negotiations.
Second, taking Gaza out of the picture would mean that some of the most difficult issues in resolving the Arab-Israeli conflict fall off the table. 'Safe passage' across 'Israel proper' from one part of 'Palestine' to 'the other' will no longer be an issue. Instead, there will be two border crossings for anyone who wants to travel from Judea or Samaria to Gaza.
Third, once 'Allah' is no longer ordering the 'Palestinians' to not yield an inch of land, perhaps a territorial compromise may be found. Perhaps even a territorial compromise that will not require uprooting 400,000 Israelis from their homes two years after 10,000 Israelis were expelled from their homes, most of whom still remain homeless.
Fourth, many of the 'Palestinians' in the 'West Bank' really would like to live in peace with Israel. Sure, most of them don't live in Jenin or Shchem (Nablus), which are hotbeds of Islamic fundamentalism, but the more secular 'Palestinians' in Ramallah or Jericho might be willing to consider living in peace with us. And perhaps that could be a starting point.
Will all of this come to pass? I doubt it. There's still Jerusalem and there's still the 'right of return' that the Arabs have been pretending that the 'Palestinians' will get one day in order to justify denying them citizenship in the countries in which they have lived for the past sixty years. I don't believe any negotiated 'solution' between Israel and the 'Palestinians' will be possible in my lifetime and probably not in my children's lifetime either. But there's more of a chance for a solution with the 'West Bank' alone (and possibly even with Gaza alone) then there is of finding a solution with the two of them together. Malley and Miller won't even consider the possibility. After all, that would require thinking outside the State Department's box for Israel and the 'Palestinians.'
Update: 3:57 PM (Boston time)
Dhimmi Carter says the US, Israel and the EU have to stop favoring Hamas over Fatah. Dhimmi prefers the 'One State Solution' ('Palestine' only). Note that Carter objects to the favoritism because it 'attempts to divide the 'Palestinian people' into two,' a division that is correct in itself for the reasons I noted above.